Interview — The War Stories by the Experienced

Fumiko Hirata

b.1932 from Asa

Father’s Deployment and Brother’s Death

Everyone in Zamami, both young and elderly
Sent him off in front of the comprehensive center
My father might have felt uneasy
Because he didn’t even say,
“Fumiko, be sure to listen to your mom and keep your head up”
He just left and he still hasn’t come back
I have two brothers
And two sisters
My youngest brother who had a weak stomach
Had diarrhea so bad that the clinics in Zamami couldn’t help
So we went to an inpatient hospital in Naha
But he passed away
And my father was gone too
At the time, I was only 8 years old
We were all children
I don’t think anyone felt the suffering and pain
More than my mother

Life with Japanese Soldiers

The soldiers that were heading to Miyako and Yaeyama
Would come to Asa for one night
They would stay in the houses of villagers
One Japanese soldier said to me
“Young lady, I have a daughter that’s about your age too”
He would hug me affectionately
Put me on his lap and would not let go
Soldiers who were parents themselves
Treated us kindly, thinking of their own children

March 23, Day of the Airstrike

I was cutting grass
As a school activity
There were students who didn’t show up
Saying they had evacuated to the air raid shelters
Because there was bad news that morning
It was a big air strike
B29s came in formation, 4 planes each
They started shooting
We sat in the rice field like this
In a water filled field where grass had grown
We were planning to run to the mountains
Before the enemy came
So we went into a grassy hill
There was fire sparking right in front of me
And the hill I was hiding in started burning
I was repeatedly saying that I was scared
While running towards a shed
In this shed, there were lots of pregnant Korean women and young men
They all left because the planes were flying throughout the day
I stayed in the bushes by the river with them until around 5:30 or 6:00

Evacuating to the Yuhina Gama

After that, I went in the back mountains
To a natural gama (air raid shelter) called Yuhina
Where we cooked rice is where our current grave is
Everyone would cook rice there
We would line up three rocks and cook rice on the firewood
Once this rice boiled
We had to stand over our pot and guard them
Even though the fire would still be burning
If we didn’t guard our own pots
Japanese soldiers would run off with them
We had to protect the pots that the rice was cooking in
So it wouldn’t get stolen (by the Japanese soldiers)
Since it was completely dark at night
If we ran into someone at night
We had to give a signal one another
To let the other know that we were both Japanese
If one said, “shin-nen” (belief), the other person replies, “hissho” (certain victory)
That is how we told enemies apart
In school we learned
“The belief of certain victory, comes from desperate training”

Group Self-Determination in the Maintenance Company Gama

There is a big gama (air raid shelter)
Called the “Maintenance Company Gama
This gama was the only place
Where all the food supplies for the Japanese soldiers were stored
Everyone came into the gama to steal food
Unfortunately, dozens of people from Zamami
Died in this gama
Killed each other by strangulation
My relatives died this way as well
Cloth was placed on the corpses
Laid to rest
It is so dark nobody couldn’t see anything
According to my mother and sister
If you walked on a corpse
You could hear the gushing of bodily fluids
Once you get all the way to the back you find it
They grabbed this much of powdered miso
And brought it
To the Yuhina Gama

Being Sent to Camps as Captives

When the people of Zamami and Asa became captives
They had hardships climbing cliffs with belongings on their heads
But the U.S. Soldiers
Came right up to our house
We were told to get onto the landing craft going to Zamami
Once we got to Zamami,
My young uncle in his 40’s
Was separated from the family
And was examined in a place called Ukajin in Zamami
They were questioning whether he was a soldier or civilian
Once they figured out my uncle was a civilian
He came back an hour later to the evacuation shelter in Ama
In the Ama Village, there were three tent shelters made
Since people from Zamami didn’t have anywhere to go either
We all lived in these tent shelters
When woke up in the morning, we went straight to the bay
To see if anything had washed up ashore
Like chickens
When something with yellow fat washed ashore
We couldn’t tell if it was really chicken meat or human meat
But we took it, cooked it, and ate it

Struggles of Not Being Able to Go to School

When I got my job, I had to show my educational background
I needed proof that I went to school in Zamami until I was 12 years old
I submit my papers
To the Japan Tobacco and Salt Public Cooperation
Even my colleagues or coworkers I had high education
But we had no education
But the wage was age-linked, so my age wage was higher (than my coworkers’)
So my pay was higher than theirs
Elders would look down on me saying that I was getting a better pay
Even though I couldn’t do anything
I was determined not to lose, we all had the same number of hands and feet
Even someone with no education should be able to work
I was first in the expiration date training (for tobacco)
I was determined that I was going to live fiercely

A Message to Your Children and Grandchildren’s Generation

If my precious grandchildren were ever to be served draft papers
I would go to the prime minister to refuse it, even if I had to crawl there
People from all over the world are getting along and have good lives
Because we have world peace
My husband always says
It’s nice to have peace in the world